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Can stress make you fat? The science behind

Can stress make you fat? The science behind
Dr. Constance Odom, MD Picture of Dr. Constance Odom, MD

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Written by our editorial team.

Last Edited 5 min read

Stress and obesity are interconnected in several ways, creating a complex relationship that can be challenging to break. Here's how stress contributes to weight gain and obesity:

  1. Hormonal Changes: When stressed, the body releases cortisol, a hormone that increases appetite and cravings for sugary, fatty foods. Cortisol also promotes fat storage, particularly around the abdomen. This can lead to weight gain even if you're not eating more calories overall.

  2. Disrupted Eating Patterns: Stress can lead to emotional eating, where people turn to food for comfort rather than nourishment. This can result in overeating and unhealthy food choices, contributing to weight gain. Stress can also disrupt sleep patterns, which further affects appetite regulation and increases the risk of obesity.

  3. Reduced Physical Activity: Stress often saps energy and motivation, making it less likely for individuals to engage in physical activity. This lack of exercise can slow metabolism and make it harder to maintain a healthy weight.

  4. Insulin Resistance: Chronic stress can lead to persistently high insulin levels, which can cause the body's cells to become less responsive to insulin. This condition, known as insulin resistance, increases the risk of weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

  5. Genetic Predisposition: Some individuals may have a genetic predisposition to stress-related weight gain. This means they may be more likely to experience the hormonal and metabolic changes that contribute to obesity when under stress.

Breaking the Cycle:

Recognizing the link between stress and obesity is the first step toward managing weight and improving overall health. Here are some strategies to break the cycle:

  • Stress Management: Find healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature.

  • Healthy Eating Habits: Focus on a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods, sugary drinks, and excessive caffeine.

  • Regular Exercise: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

  • Mindful Eating: Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues, and avoid eating when distracted or emotional.

  • Seek Support: If you're struggling with stress or weight management, talk to a healthcare professional or therapist. They can help you develop personalized strategies to improve your health and well-being.

It's important to remember that the relationship between stress and obesity is complex, and there's no one-size-fits-all solution. By understanding the connections and taking proactive steps to manage stress and adopt healthy habits, you can break the cycle and achieve a healthier weight and overall lifestyle.


This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your physician about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Nu Image Medical may not offer the medications or services mentioned in this article.